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1. Focus on an artist who shows real people in vulnerable situations.
You might examine more deeply the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, Lange, or Arbus,
Or, you might explore the paintings of Alice Neel, such as TB Harlem (1940) or Andy Warhol (1970).
Or, explore the photos of Roy DeCarava, such as David, New York (1952), shown below.
Perhaps investigate the legal and ethical issues raised by Arne Svenson’s 2012 series, “The Neighbors.”
If you’re feeling emotionally up for it, you might investigate controversial documentary photos, such as “Vulture and Child” by Kevin Carter (a 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo), or the photos Lee Miller took at the end of World War II.
2. Choose a photo or painting that specifically shows a specific person’s face and is veristic.
Artists sometimes block out the face, or shows someone from the back, or choose a “generic face” (no one in particular, or a model) to protect a subject’s identity. But what if they don’t? That’s what I’d like you to explore here.
Be sure to identify the work fully by artist’s name, title, date, and medium (photo or painting).
If you think the work you chose needs a Content Warning (CW), then attach the image rather embedding it, or provide a link, and provide a content warning note (such as CW: child starvation).
3. Discuss the ethical issues surrounding the artist’s use of verism here.
Provide some context for this image — what’s going on here, where are we, why are we here?
Clarify why this work raises ethical issues.
Any veristic artwork showing a person’s face is potentially controversial. Even celebrated works can be controversial; for example, Florence Owens Thompson, the “migrant mother” in Dorothea Lange’s famous photo, felt betrayed and insulted when the photo appeared in print.
Clarify if the artist comes from a shared experience, or if the artist is an outsider in this situation (for example, Alice Neel lived in Harlem and painted her neighbors). This background may, or may not, make a difference in the ethics of the situation.
Provide the artist’s perspective; include a quote by the artist, if possible, or a quote about the artist, that helps explain why they chose to take this photo, or photos like this.
Use good sources to support your analysis!
Be sure to credit each source you use, right after you use it (put the link in parentheses)! If you use the site’s words, put those phrases or sentences in “quotation marks” and then put the link in parentheses after the quote.
4. Present your own take on the ethics of this work.
Explain where you stand on this work. Was it right for this work to be shared by the artist?
Are you conflicted in your answer, and if so, how/why? (It’s OK to be conflicted!)
Note if your opinion is shaped by your culture (expectations of your generation, your ethnic background, etc.).
Take a step back, and frame the issue a little wider by answering any of these questions:
If a subject can’t provide consent (due to age or circumstances), is it ever appropriate for an artist to show that subject in their work?
Does the weight of historical or social importance ever outweigh an individual’s rights to personal privacy and/or dignity?
Do the artists’ personal experiences (sharing in the subjects’ situation in some way) give them more license to address others’ afflictions, or is that irrelevant?
Do you agree with Kentridge, that an artist’s level of dedication, and investment of time and energy, can balance out the possibilities of exploitation?